Coping Strategies In the Face Of Natural Disasters
By Rachel Papke & Elizabeth McOsker
As a part of Elizabeth’s Masters in Public Health coursework, Elizabeth successfully completed four FEMA Emergency Management Institute courses in Disaster Preparedness and Response.
Natural disasters come in all different forms. So does anxiety. The ways people are affected by a looming natural disaster, or in the aftermath of one, are different and unique to each individual. No one experiences an event the same way. Everyone has a way they process the world based on their individual lived-experiences, and other factors.
This can prove to be un-nerving when trying to manage the stress and anxiety caused by a natural disaster. Your thoughts are likely scattered and strewn about, as you try to make sense of the chaos, and attempt to piece yourself back together to move forward.
However, it’s important in these unclear moments that you have ways to cope with the feelings you have. Please feel those feelings, but don’t feel them alone. You are not alone. Studies of severe natural disasters show that at least half of those impacted later suffer clinically significant distress (VA.gov). Often, distress can occur a year or more after the disaster, once the initial recovery and outpouring of support has passed and life still hasn’t returned to normal (SAMHSA).
If you are feeling anxious leading up to a disaster, here are some tips to try:
- Limit your intake of information on the disaster. Check in for important information from local and federal government sources, but try not to watch 24/7 cable tv coverage. Also consider the reliability of your sources—much of the information and many of the posts and videos you see on social media are known to be fake or unreliable
- Talk with others, including people who are preparing for the disaster, to find out what they are doing to prepare and how they are coping
- Have a disaster preparedness plan and keep supplies on hand. Follow your plan in case of disaster. If you’ve thought out evacuation procedures, safety zones, and plans for food, water, and pets ahead of time, you have fewer things to worry about in the moment. Check out ready.gov for help making a preparedness plan
- Contact a medical professional if you have trouble coping with your anxiety
Some tips that can help you recover from the disaster include:
- Seek social support and share the experience with family and community members. Being able to cope and/or work through the problem together is helpful
- Maintain hope and try to focus on the positive and pay attention to the hopeful stories of human kindness and generosity
- Practice positive coping skills like meditating, exercising, and artistic activities. Try to keep a normal routine as much as you possibly can.
- Communicate openly and honestly with the people around you
- Take care of your physical health—get exercise and plenty of sleep and limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol
- Limit your exposure to images of the disaster
- Give back and do what you can to help others. See if you can help your neighbors, or consider donating blood or assisting with rebuilding efforts
- Seek professional help as early as possible to talk through your distress
If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed leading up to, during, or after a disaster, consider these resources:
SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) provides free, confidential crisis counseling.
Psychological First Aid is an important tool to help people maintain safety, connectedness, and hope during and after disasters. Everyone can learn and practice PFA to be a support to themselves and others. Check out http://www.health.state.mn.us/oep/responsesystems/psychclass.html for the online training.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you are feeling suicidal or are worried about someone else: 1-800-273-HELP (8255)
Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/coping-stress-natural-disasters
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal, and not those of the Jordan Porco Foundation. The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as mental health advice from the individual author or the Jordan Porco Foundation. You should consult a mental health professional for advice regarding your individual situation.